I have to give Donald Trump and Steve Bannon credit. Their administration is unpopular, most of the leaders of their own party distrust them, yet they are moving forward as if they had won a landslide victory.
I have to go back to Lyndon Johnson before I can find any Democratic President who has acted so decisively on taking office.
This is part of a pattern. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and even George W. Bush were transformative Presidents. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were not. What Clinton and Obama basically did was to normalize the changes that Reagan and G.W. Bush brought about.
Michael Kinnucan, writing in Current Affairs magazine, said the difference between the two parties is that the Democratic leaders always try to position themselves in the moderate center, while the Republican leaders continually redefine where the center is—
Ending Medicaid isn’t an obvious or an easy fight—it’s a very efficient program that’s been part of the American social fabric for 50 years, a program with 70 million beneficiary-constituents, one vital to the survival (economic and otherwise) of some of the most photogenically unfortunate people in America (families raising kids with major disabilities, for chrissake!) and a major source of business for the gigantic and very widely geographically distributed healthcare-provision industry. It’s also very popular; only 13% of Americans support slashing Medicaid. And no wonder: 63% of Americans say that either they or a close friend or family member has been covered by Medicaid at some point. It’s not even arguably in any kind of crisis; there’s no obvious reason to touch it.
So for Republicans, going after Medicaid is picking a big fight, one they could easily dodge. But that won’t stop them. They know that destroying this kind of program is key to their vision for America, both ideologically and in terms of budget math. They’ve known it for years, and they’ve been releasing plans and focus-grouping and developing consensus for years in the wilderness, and now they’re tanned, rested and ready.
And for 95% of their congressfolks it’s not even a question—they’ll vote yes. They’ll do it in the smartest possible way, too: they’ll say there’s a fiscal crisis and it’s necessary, they’ll say it’s not a cut it’s just market efficiency, they’ll use block-granting to disown the cuts that happen and lay them on the states, and then wait till the cuts reduce the program’s popularity to mop up what’s left. Most Americans won’t really believe anyone would do what the GOP is about to do until it’s too late.
And hey, maybe they’ll even lose a couple of Congressional races over it, but the Dems won’t be in a strong enough position to reverse the cuts for years and years, and starting a program like this is much harder than ending it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
How do the Republicans get away with attacking popular programs and enacting unpopular programs? It’s as Bill Clinton once said: When people feel uncertain, they’d rather have somebody who’s strong and wrong than somebody that’s weak and right.
Why is it that Democrats seldom act as decisively as Republicans? It’s not because Democrats are somehow inherently more timid. It is because of the structure of our political system.
Republicans and conservatives historically have had a big advantage over Democrats and progressives in raising money to conduct political campaigns. Sometime in the late 1970s, a group calling themselves the New Democrats emerged, who sought to compete for big campaign donations by defining the Democrats as responsible conservatives. Since then most top Democrats embraced moderation and compromise.
So when some issue such as raising the minimum wage or enacting a big public works program arises, the Republicans can take a strong stand in opposition without antagonizing their donor base. Most of the Democratic leaders have to balance the interests of their supporters with the interests of their donors. Over time the definition of what’s moderate shifts in the Republican direction.
Limits to campaign contributions never were completely effective, but court decisions in recent years have made things worse by striking down many of what limits there were. Donald Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court has questioned the constitutionality of the few remaining restrictions.
The lessons for progressives and Democrats are (1) you cannot serve Mammon and the public interest, (2) appeasement is not a successful long-range political strategy and (3) extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
Why Republicans Are Impressive by Michael Kinnucan for Current Affairs. Read the whole thing.
Trump Denounced ‘Broken System’ of Big Money Politics | Neil Gorsuch Could Make It Worse by Jon Schwartz for The Intercept.